Spanish professor Olga Bezhanova recently won the Medal for Contribution to Ukrainian Art and Scholarship from the Ukrainian Academy of Literature and Art.
Bezhanova came to SIUE in 2009, and left Ukraine in 1998, She said she has been making massive steps to expand herself and get involved with spreading her knowledge and culture, this medal being just one of those steps.
According to Bezhanova, all of her degrees through school and graduate school are in Hispanic Studies. After starting out on the East Coast, she found she wasn’t a fan of the area and decided to search for jobs in the Midwest, leading her to SIUE where she has been ever since.
Bezhanova wants her message with the medal to be one of diversity. Along with English and Ukrainian, she knows several other languages including Russian, Spanish, German and French. She switches between multiple languages all day for work, between classes and phone calls in her office.
Bezhanova said she sees this award as a huge step toward the diminishing of the corruption in Ukraine, as her receiving recognition on the other side of the world is something that she says might not have happened a few years ago. Being the largest country in Europe by territory, Bezhanova thinks this medal represents a shift for the positive with Ukraine.
“Right now, the situation in Ukraine is difficult, [it is a] very difficult situation economically. But Ukraine is really trying to improve the country’s image on the world stage,” Bezhanova said.
Bezhanova hasn’t returned to Ukraine in 21 years. Receiving this medal despite the fact that she’s not closely tied to a position of power, according to Bezhanova, shows the country is making an effort to improve its biggest issue, corruption. She is proud to have the opportunity to represent her country, and hopes that the effort she is making here will eventually lead to a better view of Ukraine.
Bezhanova was recently given the opportunity to speak at the Edwardsville Public Library. Her presentation was titled “The Revolution of Dignity and Birth of Democracy in Ukraine” and delved into topics such as the history of corruption in the country and the changes being made to move toward a functioning democracy. Bezhanova was very happy with the turnout, and she said she was surprised by the attendance and enjoyed the opportunity.
“There were many people, different ages; people were so engaged, and we had a lot of really insightful questions. So I’m thinking people are starting to follow it more. I think it’s working over time,” Bezhanova said.
Jacob Graves, a senior majoring in Speech-Language Pathology and Spanish, attended the recent talk by Bezhanova, and said it was a really amazing opportunity to see someone on campus that’s able to share their knowledge. Graves also said how big it is, with Ukraine’s situation, for Bezhanova to be awarded the medal.
“Being able to hear Professor Bezhanova’s personal narratives about her home country was an amazing experience,” Graves said. “Especially in the case of Ukraine’s heightened presence in the news, it’s important to recognize all the valuable cultural and artistic contributions of the country.”
Along with Graves, Allison Norris, a junior also majoring in Speech-Pathology, thinks Bezhanova’s presence on campus has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Olga has ensured that her students learn about other cultures. She is very passionate about teaching others about Latin American countries,” Norris said. “I have learned so much about Latin America this semester, and it has helped me to better understand their culture.”
Going forward, Bezhanova hopes to keep expanding her knowledge and insight into different cultures around campus. While Bezhanova is happy about the medal, she is also excited to be a part of the positive change in her country and looks forward to having a country she can be proud of.